Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are two of the most decorated, dominant swimmers in U.S. history. Rivals in the pool and friends out of it, they’re poised to take their personal rivalry to London for the 2012 Olympic Games, where they’ll showcase it with the world watching.
Phelps will arrive in London looking to add to his record haul of 14 gold medals and cap off a career that has already established him as arguably the greatest Olympian in history. Four years ago, he took Beijing by storm, winning eight gold medals and providing some of the Games’ indelible images. Phelps’ gold medal total surpassed fellow swimmer Mark Spitz’s seven at the 1972 Games as the American standard, leaving even Spitz in awe of this pool prodigy.
“Epic,” said Spitz of Phelps’ performance. “It goes to show you that not only is this guy the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he’s maybe the greatest athlete of all time. He’s the greatest racer who ever walked the planet.”
Phelps remains a threat for gold even in the twilight of his career, says rival and fellow gold medalist Ian Thorpe.
“I believe Michael is the very strong favorite to win three gold medals in London, and is a 50-50 contender to win another three,” Thorpe told the UK website Sportsvibe. “In my mind winning multiple golds in London would be just as impressive as winning eight in Beijing. Of course what he achieved in China was phenomenal. There’s no way I’ll ever see that again in my lifetime.”
If anyone can threaten Phelps for current swimming supremacy, it’s Lochte, who won five titles at last year’s world championships to Phelps’ four before out-swimming his rival at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June. “If we look at the results, just the numbers, Lochte looks better,” Thorpe said.
Lochte is also outpacing his countryman on the hype meter heading to London after Phelps mania reached its peak four years ago. But together, they comprise a TV ad exec’s dream pairing.
And even if Lochte dethrones Phelps as king of the pool in the minds of Americans, Thorpe says that Phelps’ place in history is secure.
“To keep on doing it, Games after Games, is what makes Michael so special,” Thorpe said. “The man has dominated world swimming for a decade now. How can he still have such desire when he’s accomplished everything there is to in sport?
“He’s the greatest swimmer in history.”